for Taylor on his birthday
During his long career as a professor, Herb and I attended many a dinner party with his colleagues, and at one they were gossiping – yes, scientists gossip – about another colleague they wished the Department would get rid of because he was a ‘nutcase.’
“He should just retire,” grumbled one of them.
“What do you mean ‘nutcase’?” I asked, joining their conversation. He shot an uneasy glance at Herb, whose eyes I carefully avoided. Herb tensed a bit and I wished I had just kept my mouth shut. But it was too late. I felt his indrawn sigh as his colleague replied,
“This fellow keeps talking about ‘the Big Picture’ and demands to know what happens to polymers after they’re used…that sort of thing.” This was pretty close to our own arguments at home and Herb let out his sigh.
“What if he’s right?” I asked in a low voice.
Silence. Herb’s colleagues had sort of gotten used to me over the years and no doubt did not envy Herb his choice of wife. But they were generally polite to me, although probably they privately branded me as a nutcase, too. Then one of the younger members of the faculty responded to my question, respectful enough to tell me the truth as he saw it.
“If this fellow’s right,” he said kindly, “then it could mean we’re wrong, you see…and we’d have to scratch everything we know about how science works.”
And, I thought, you’d have to scratch your careers, your livelihoods and your status – not to mention your research grants. I get it.
I shot him a grateful smile for his honesty and took a bite of blueberry pie, giving my husband’s knee a pat under the table. I could feel his relief that I would let go of my argument.
It was not the first time this has happened to me, bucking the trend of the popular culture either deliberately, or by missing the cues about what was expected. (Like the time I unconsciously took on the caste system when we lived in India, by showing up in a village sari to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.)
Oops. I was young then; I’m a bit more mindful these days – I hope.
I still have problems playing by the rules, though, especially when the rules feel wrong, or even dangerous to me. For example, I wish the Democrats would have the guts to think up new ways of choosing candidates and, instead of these excellent people fighting one another to be on the ticket, dream up new ways of governing collaboratively!
I wish that scientists would realize that as brilliant as the scientific method is in understanding and manipulating the physical world, it falls short when it comes to recognizing the more subtle and vaster context into which the physical world fits. That there is a bigger picture, and when the larger context of the universe goes missing, the intrinsic patterns of the Whole get left out, and profound mistakes in understanding get made.
I wonder if it was some grand pattern of cycles and correspondences that Einstein was seeking in his Theory of Everything, and what he might have to say about this if he were alive today?
What if the visible, tangible world is only the icing on a multi-level layer cake of many subtle dimensions not easily seen by the naked eye nor with our invented instruments? What if we can understand the world in non-intellectual ways – by intuition and subjective feeling, for example? What if the conclusions we draw based upon our inadequate assumptions create societies that make basic mistakes – like rewarding only the few, and destroying our environment at the same time?
What if there is a whole other way to experience this amazing world we live in by stretching our minds to perceive a larger context for our lives? And what if, by recognizing this, we might save our species and the planet we live upon? And what if all the unnecessary tragedies that keep happening could have the purpose of waking us up?
I believe this may be what these difficult times are about.
I also wonder if the phenomenon of crop circles is not one of our wake-up calls, like an alarm clock radio that starts your day with sweet music rather than a raucous BUZZZ.
“Wake up, good people,” I can sense the circlemakers whispering, and presenting us with one precise gorgeous mandala after another, each demonstrating a geometric design containing the elemental structures of matter and form. To teach us. One after another these mysterious patterns flirt with us, challenging our imaginations to understand how in the world they got there, who did them, why? What might they mean?
If people did not make them…then…who? we ask tremulously.
I can almost hear the intelligences behind these formations leading us on, knowing we’ll catch on sooner or later. “Figure this one out, mathematics buffs,” they tease. “Take our pictures, photographers; investigate us, you journalists; examine the affected wheat stalks under your microscopes, you scientists; come in for a picnic, folks. Let people know we are here! We don’t have all the time in the world to make this shift of understanding…”
I was intrigued by the responses I got from many of you who received my last piece, responses that ranged from total fascination to barely veiled anger. I recognize the anger as fear of the unknown, as well as fear that if this happened to be true, how might that change everything we thought we could count on?
Of course it is scary to let go of a long-held belief system, one that has supported us and that we have based our lives upon. Who wants to just leap out from our comfort zone into empty space, not knowing where we will land? Very little in the society supports our doing that, but things are changing as the young ones, many of whom seem to have come in with new sensibilities, seek to comprehend the intuitions they were born with.
I had a dream once in which I was walking along the edge of a seacliff, above a rockbound coast with crashing waves below, and if I slipped off it would be to my certain death. I had to pay strict attention to my every step, but got distracted for a moment and slipped, lost my footing and fell terrified into thin air.
But the impact never came. Instead, I was buoyed by air, free of gravity and quite safe, floating above the whole world. I could see beyond the horizon and down into the depths of the sea; saw the tides cover and uncover the edges of the land and watched creatures of the sea and the grasslands flicking in and out of lifespans of differing durations. Humans came and went through seasons and ages and I was simply part of it all, a drop in a spinning vortex that kept emerging and spiraling around out of sight until it disappeared into darkness, re-emerging into visibility when it was time.
When I awoke from that dream, I knew something I had not known before, and my fears about Death were gone, and what I now perceive as the Big Picture had fully saturated my every cell.
A teaching dream if ever there was one.
“But how do you know?” asked my husband dozens of times in our long life together.
“I know because I know,” I’ve always responded inadequately in one form or another. “I can feel it, Herb!”
And then I would change the subject before he asked for ‘evidence.’
Recently, trying to explain some of these thoughts to a friend, he burst out with, “But you’re a mystic!” as if a light had suddenly gone on in his head.
I just laughed and thought,
Yup, but I think we all are, my friend, if we let ourselves be!
If so, then you are too…